International Frederick Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw

The 15th Frederic Chopin International Piano Competition will be held in Warsaw on September 23 – October 24, 2005. The competition is one of the oldest and most prestigious music competitions in the world. It belongs to a small group of piano competitions dedicated to the performance of music by just one composer.

The first Chopin Competition was initiated by Jerzy Zurawlew, an outstanding Polish pianist and teacher. It took place on 23-30 January 1927 in the hall of the Warsaw Philharmonic. The next two competitions occurred five years apart, in accordance with the rules of the organizers, up to the start of WWII.

The fourth competition, following the war, took place in the “Roma” concert hall at Nowogrodzka Street, which was the only surviving building capable of serving as a temporary hall for the Warsaw Philharmonic. The year was 1949, the hundredth anniversary of the death of the great composer, and the competition became a culmination of the Chopin’s Year. The next competition was held six years later, in 1955, in the rebuilt hall of the Warsaw Philharmonic, which was promoted to the rank of a national institution. Since 1955, the international competition has taken place in the halls of the National Philharmonic, every five years, without interruption.

The prewar competitions and those that took place during 1955-1965 occurred in the winter, close to the birth date of Frederic Chopin. Because considerable incidence of sickness took place in the winter, both among the participants and the members of the jury, the date of the competition was moved to the month of October, the anniversary of the composer’s death.

During its 78 years of existence, the competition has expanded and attracts an increasingly large number of participants. In 1927, 26 pianists attended the competition from eight countries.

This year, 343 young pianists representing 47 countries applied for the competition. The first competition took place in eight days. This year, the competition will last over one month, taking into account preliminary round, two stages, the final, and three concerts of winners.

During the first competition, the jury was composed exclusively of representatives of the Polish music circle. Next successive competitions had as members of  the jury many outstanding musicians and pianists from all over the world, including prizewinners from previous competitions. In this year’s jury, we will see among others Adam Harasiewicz, winner of the 5th competition (1955) and Martha Argerich (Argentina), winner of the 7th competition (1965). They are both worldwide renowned pianists and teachers.

Winning the competition or being awarded one of the prizes not only promotes Chopin’s music among young pianists, but it also helps start the artistic careers and creates a path to the most famous concert halls. Also, many of the competition laureates receive lucrative contracts to record the music of Chopin. The best examples of great artistic successes are careers of Vladimir Ashkenazy (Russia), the winner of the 2nd prize in the 5th competition in 1955, and Kristian Zimerman (Poland), the winner of the 9th competition in 1975. Ashkenazy performed in the most significant concert halls of the world and today is also known and valued as a conductor. For several years, Ashkenazy was a conductor of  the Cleveland Orchestra. Zimerman is known today as one of the leading pianists in the world. His concerts and recordings are extremely popular.

The first competition was a great cultural event in the reborn Polish State. Today the Chopin Competition is still very popular in Poland and around the world, and it is a splendid ambassador of Polish culture. The music of Chopin, today as for many years, speaks to the hearts of millions of listeners, and causes them to be lost in admiration to its everlasting beauty.

Aleksandra Hart

Forum, 7-8/2005